Katie Mccullough Talks and Writes

Words will get written here and some videoblogs will appear. You don't have to look but it would be nice if you did.

The White Room (with yellow wallpaper…) December 3, 2009

This is one of the adaptations I’m working on for Theatrix. If I ever refer to The White Room this is what I mean – I’m adapting The Yellow Wallpaper. We decided to alter the title completely because it’s a modern adaptation and there are several restagings happening around presently so we thought we’d stand out a bit and because it uses the short story as a springboard we thought it best not to take the original title. Agreed? Perfect. Right then on to rehearsals…

We’ve had a fair few but I’ve only just got round to asking the people involved if they’d mind me blogging about it. They said they didn’t mind so here we are now, with me blogging about it.

After having a secure cast for ‘The White Room’ workshops have been more intriguing as I develop the characters to suit the actors. It’s been integral that I set them tasks and exercises to not only show how I collaborate but also to play around with the text and place an anchor on where I’m taking the story. My personal aim was to make the piece a modernised version and that’s what it’s going to be. But because it’s so modern I have to remember the original themes that haunted me from the story I’m adapting.

Last week I arrived with some script of which I was excited about because of the nature of this project (the script is being written as we go along based on what comes out of the workshops). So to arrive with the sparse script I had was not only exciting for me seeing as I’d only read it to myself but to hand it over to the cast and the director to gather their thoughts made me a little anxious as well. My main question was, ‘does this mask the original story too much, can you see where I’m going?’ The workshop was fruitful and we overcame small details such as the characters lifestyle. Basically I’m writing for a couple who are married and have just had a child living in a flat. Considering the two actors involved are 18 and 23 and tick none of these boxes I’ll have to compromise but that’s not a massive problem as I want to create a role they’re suited to, one they can get their teeth into and bring a killer performance.

Suzy playing Alice's Mother alongside Alex's Father

She has a Lovely hat... there won't be any hats in this project.

The other idea I’ve got my heart set on is setting it in real time in an enclosed space making the audience voyeurs on this couple. We’ve been using what is essentially nicknamed ‘the green room’ as our rehearsal space and the director, Rosemarie, suggested this could be a good place for the actual performances. I jumped on the idea. It’s a basic rectangular room that could be dressed to be a living room. Perfect! I want the audience to be surrounding the room; this will be a living room that anyone watching will be able to think ‘this is my living room’. It’s going to be naturalistic as they come and is something that the two Lovely actors, Alex and Suzy, aren’t usually accustomed to but they’re fantastic and eager so everything will come together.

Alex in Alice in Wonderland

Alex played the Queen in Alice. He won't be cross-dressing in this piece.

One of the tasks I set them last week was to take two lines of the new script as a starting position and gave them two lines from towards the end of the segment and asked them to freefall and improvise in the middle. To get them used to the audience being closer than their used to (proscenium arch) myself and the director sat behind them whilst they acted. The body language was superb and really heightened the unhealthy pauses that the two were experimenting with.

The lines in questions were these…

    To start:

    Helen: Y’know I can’t remember when we made her, the single occasion.

    Liam: I’m so glad you said that.

(freefall)

    To end:

    Liam: Helen.
    Helen: Not now.

And they got it, nailed it. And by sitting behind them it almost gave them this idea of security especially being at such an early stage in the development that they could rely on not being seen. Obviously this won’t be the case for the actual production as they’ll be the opposite, extremely exposed to the audience gaze no matter where they sit or turn or stand. But for that one exercise it allowed them to think for long periods of time and not worry that we were watching them and making eye contact.

The information I keep drowning them in is about naturalistic dialogue and pacing. Today’s rehearsal I decided would be in a restaurant so they could listen to how people converse and how it differs to scripted material. It’s going to fine-tune their ears to natural pauses and generally how a human would speak and not an actor reciting lines. Rosemarie gave a small speech about taking lines from a play and not stressing the most obvious dramatic word, but to find the heart of the line and honestly think ‘how would I say this if it weren’t a line’. I followed this up by saying if they could record themselves talking about something they love and admire and then about something they despise and hate they’d be able to hear the rhetoric and tone difference between the two. When we’re angry we become articulate and fast whereas when we talk about something lovingly we are slow and calculated because we drop ourselves in the moment and linger on the feeling.

So for that rehearsal I wrote a simple two page exchange set over lunch which I got them to read blind without letting them pre-glance over it. Then we listened to the surrounding atmosphere and asked them to mimic other diners in the restaurant or implement something they’ve garnered from a fellow human conversing around them (a repetitive nature, stammer, pattern of speech .etc.). I somehow unfortunately sat with my back to the majority of the restaurant but it made the rest of them describe to me in great detail what people were saying or how they were acting, who had arrived and who was leaving. The scene itself really grew the more they read through it. I fed them different tones to read it in and they delivered on everyone. Then I got them to read the scene whilst eating and they really came into their own and made the piece so fluidly natural I felt my work there was done. Next week we’ll be applying the idea of not being afraid to linger in the silence and in general making the scenes already written come off the page. We’re rehearing in a living room next time which is to get them used to the more cosy surroundings and to experiment with having the audience at close range. I’ve also prepped some Martin Crimp to read through with them as he uses a naturalistic exchange to great effect in ‘The City’.

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One Response to “The White Room (with yellow wallpaper…)”

  1. Jessica Says:

    Hi – I have nominated you for a blogger award over at my blog,

    Jessica 🙂

    PS. Hope the operation went okay.


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